That Summer Feeling: Chasing the Shy Town by Erika McGann

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews
Chasing the Shy Town by Erika McGann

By Erika McGann

I grew up in a housing estate that was on the very edge of our town. Beyond it were seemingly endless miles of fields, most of which were left to grow wild. Our summers were spent chasing each other through weeds and wildflowers tall enough to entangle us at the waist, climbing trees, crawling through hedges and ‘fishing’ in ditches and streams that had few or no fish.

The first day of the summer holidays always buzzed with excitement and possibility. Planning our adventures was almost as good as having them, and each summer began with a plan to build an epic fort; one with a roof, and walls, and maybe even a door. Nothing we built was ever structurally that sound, but what we lacked in quality we more than made up for in quantity. We had forts all over the place, most of them half-built and too small to fit all of us at once.

The big kids, however, did build something epic one year. It was called the Tunnel. It was a work of genius, and probably a crime. They excavated a huge hole in the middle of a field, covered it with aluminium sheeting propped up by wooden beams, and camouflaged it with a layer of soil, grass and bits of bushes. The trapdoor entry was also camouflaged, so the big kids had an actual secret underground lair. Us little kids were consumed with envy, and gaining unlawful access to that lair became our one and only goal that summer.

In the end it wasn’t difficult. Big kids get bored easily, and all we had to do was wait them out. Hiding in the hedge at the edge of the field, we counted the kids going in and the kids coming out, and when we were sure there was no-one left inside we tiptoed to the trapdoor and climbed down. In reality we were half a dozen little kids sitting in a muddy hole, grinning giddily at each other in the light of a yellow plastic torch. In our minds we were brave adventurers who had conquered a forbidden underground hideout.

Erika McGann

We lasted about five minutes before fear of the big kids’ return chased us from the Tunnel. But it was five heart-thumping minutes I’ll never forget.

That wild excitement of summer was what I tried to capture when writing my new book, Chasing the Shy Town. Senan is a boy who prefers the smaller adventures, but when he spots the Shy Town – a hilltop town that mysteriously vanishes and reappears along the horizon – he is dragged into an epic chase by his fearless, fun-loving neighbour, Joshua, and his smart-alecky grandmother. On their journey they encounter a boy made of paper, a strange beetle-like creature with remarkable abilities, and an enigma of a town with a shocking secret.

I think a lot of children can relate to Senan (I know I do). He’s a bit of an introvert, happy to stay at home with his grandmother, his toys and a stash of iced buns. Joshua is the opposite. She is the kind of person I admired very much as a kid – loud and unafraid and ready to take on the world. The two friends complement each other well, but Senan worries about being left out when a newcomer joins the crew. Paperboy shares Joshua’s love of adventure. And he lives it too, travelling the world as a paper plane.

Paperboy came from a short story I wrote years ago. A boy made of paper, presumed by everyone to be too delicate to do all the fun things other kids do, is confined to his grandfather’s house. His grandfather’s eccentric ways include an obsession with aeroplanes – he even builds a real one in his front garden – and when Paperboy expresses a wish to see the world, his grandfather obliges by folding him into a perfect paper plane and sending him soaring out the window.

When I was a very young kid, my dad built a two-seater aeroplane in our back garden. It’s one of those memories you question when you’re older – did that actually happen or did I make it up? But my mum and older siblings can confirm it’s true, and even though I had forgotten about it while I was writing, it’s of course where the story of Paperboy came from.

The Shy Town on the hilltop is what brings all these characters together. Like a floater in your eye, it flits from view whenever it is looked at directly. I loved the idea of chasing something you can’t quite see ­– surely it would be impossible to catch. Though I didn’t set out to write about any particular issue (my writing isn’t good when I try to do things on purpose, so the less I know about what I’m doing, the better), in Senan and his friends’ relentless pursuit of the Shy Town the notion of chasing something unattainable became a theme in other ways. As a kid, I remember feeling the pressure to be perfect, and I see it in children I work with today – those reluctant to show off their stories or illustrations because they worry their work is not good enough. I’d love those kids to see perfection not only as unattainable, but also undesirable. Many of our most interesting moments in life are in the cracks and the blemishes, in the false starts and the mistakes. And very few of our funniest or most enjoyable moments happen when everything is going exactly to plan.

Now that Chasing the Shy Town is out there, I hope it offers a little reassurance and comfort to the kids who read it. But even more than that, I hope it gives them that start-of-the-summer-holidays feeling, when the months ahead are filled with the promise of fun and adventure.

(c) Erika McGann

About Chasing the Shy Town by Erika McGann:

Chasing the Shy Town by Erika McGann

A fun and engaging story about the impossibility of perfection.

An exciting new adventure from the critically-acclaimed Erika McGann.

Senan doesn’t care for adventure. He’d rather watch the world go by from his bedroom window.

But when he spots the Shy Town – a hilltop town that vanishes and reappears along the horizon – he is fascinated.

Along with his fearless and fun-loving neighbour and his no-nonsense grandmother, Senan sets out to find the Shy Town. On their epic adventure they encounter wild storms, a boy made of paper, a nervous, beetle-like creature with remarkable abilities – and a mysterious town with an incredible secret.

Illustrated by Toni Galmés

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Erika McGann is an award-winning children’s author based in Dublin. She has written a wide range of children’s books, including Where Are You Puffling? (with illustrator Gerry Daly) and Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World (with illustrations by Phillip Cullen), which was awarded a White Raven by the International Youth Library.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from writing.ie delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books